BARELY a day goes by when we don’t see a story in the media about our stretched NHS. And the latest staff survey involving nearly half a million health service workers shows the impact it is having on the workforce.

It is a mixed bag of findings but one of the more alarming figures shows that nearly two in five of those taking part in the survey – the largest workforce survey in the world – said they had felt unwell due to work related stress in the past 12 months. This was an increase on the results from the previous year’s survey.

More than half of the respondents had attended work in the previous three months despite feeling unwell because they felt pressure to go in – they put pressure on themselves, they felt pressure from their manager or from their colleagues.

And experts have concluded that the health and wellbeing of staff reflects in clinical outcomes for patients and their overall experiences. They stress that staff need extra support to ensure that employees are well looked after and that, in turn, the service is able to provide the highest quality of care for patients.

One of the most striking areas of discontent among the NHS staff about pay – just 31 per cent of NHS staff in England were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their level of pay. This is a six per cent drop from the previous year and the lowest level in five years.

Another part of the survey revealed that 58 per cent of staff worked extra unpaid hours.

The NHS staff survey has been conducted every year since 2003 and asks staff in England about their experience of working for the NHS.

About 1.1 million health service employees from 309 NHS organisations were invited to take part and 487,000 responded. The survey report only covers the 235 trusts that took part.

There were some encouraging responses relating to management with 34 per cent reporting good communications between senior management and staff which is a slight increase over the previous year and a whopping 72 per cent said that their immediate manager valued their work.

On a similar note, the findings showed improvements around the NHS organisations taking positive action to improve the health and wellbeing of staff at work. Nearly one third of respondents said their organisation definitely took action on this compared to 30 per cent in 2015.

But despite this, the number of staff who said they would recommend their organisation to others had dropped slightly – as did the number of staff who said they looked forward to going to work.

While the numbers saying they were satisfied with resourcing and support at work had also dropped slightly.

The number of staff satisfied with the quality of care they delivered to patients had declined as had those who felt their role makes a difference to patients. Although nearly 90 per cent felt it did make a difference to patients.

Other parts of the survey showed there was an increase in the cases of physical violence from patients and the public towards staff and a slight increase in the low level of physical violence from other staff members.

A spokesperson for Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust said: “Since the survey was carried out, we have launched our 4ward culture change programme, appointed a Director of People and Culture and launched a new People and Culture Strategy which sets out how we are going to ensure that we have a skilled, engaged and supported workforce.

“We have undertaken a full review of the staff survey results against our strategy and we are confident that the actions already identified within the implementation plan will address the priority areas for improvement.

“The results from the survey, along with the results from our regular 4ward Checkpoint surveys, help us to check our progress towards becoming a high performing organisation and identify those areas where more support needs to be provided.”

A spokesperson on behalf of the three Worcestershire Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGS) said:

“There are lots of positive results in the survey, such as CCG staff reporting that we take positive action on their health and well-being.

“However, as well as telling us where we are getting things right, the survey also helps to suggest where we could better support our staff, and we will be putting plans in place to address those areas where they have told us we can improve.”

A spokesman for Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust said: “We recognise our staff work really hard in what can sometimes be difficult and challenging situations to continue providing services which are recognised as being of really good quality.

“For example the trust is rated ‘Good’ by the independent regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for the services it provides, and this, alongside the many compliments we receive each day, is a testament to the resilience, skill and commitment of both our clinical and support teams.

“Retaining and recruiting skilled and talented staff is really important in maintaining the quality and sustainability of our services and so we are investing in our workforce in areas like engagement, apprenticeship programmes and in developing various training and development opportunities to support career progression, which was recognised in this latest staff survey.

“This national staff survey is conducted once a year and is supplemented by numerous other methods of continually enabling staff to give us their views. We will be picking up areas highlighted for improvement and working together to address them to ensure there is support available to help our teams continue to deliver high quality patient care.

“We will always listen, learn and act on feedback so for example, following concerns from staff, we recently introduced a new sickness policy which was developed in partnership with our teams and staff union representatives giving managers more discretion in how they deal with sickness absence.”

The 2017 NHS Staff Survey findings follow research recently published by Picker (a not-for-profit organisation that champions patient centred care) and The King’s Fund (an independent think tank in England, which is involved with work relating to the health system in England ) showing a clear relationship between workforce pressure and patient and staff experience.

That report – ‘The risks to care quality and staff wellbeing of an NHS system under pressure’ - considered the relationships between the self-reported experiences and wellbeing of NHS staff, measures of workforce pressures in the health system, and patients’ experiences of their care.

It concluded that, unsurprisingly, work force factors such as sickness absence are negatively associated with staff experience at work, but also that poor staff experience is related to poor patient experience outcomes.

Chris Graham, chief executive officer of Picker, said: “There is strong evidence to show that staff experiences at work are linked to the pressures and challenges that people face in their roles, and that staff wellbeing drives the quality of people’s experiences.

“Similarly, we know that good staff experiences are associated with better clinical outcomes and patient experiences.

“The results from the NHS Staff Survey show that organisations are working hard to address staff wellbeing, but equally that the workforce remains under considerable pressure. Additional support for staff is needed to ensure that employees are well looked after and that the service is able to provide the highest quality of care.”